Bayer Leverkusen summer signing Odilon Kossounou is enjoying getting to grips with the Bundesliga, and cannot wait to face Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski head-on.
bundesliga.com spoke to the Ivorian defender during the September international break...
bundesliga.com: How important was the win against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 2? It was your first Bundesliga win...
Odilon Kossounou: "In my opinion, it was a very important victory. It's important to get off to a good start in order to pick up the maximum number of points."
Watch: Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach - highlights!
bundesliga.com: You became a regular starter as soon as you arrived at the club. Did that surprise you?
Kossounou: "I wouldn't say that I was surprised. Every player comes to the club with the intention of playing. So I was mentally prepared for that. And I knew that they needed me to play. So I prepared as one must - with the aim of immediately integrating within the team. And so that I could give my all to ensure that everything started well."
bundesliga.com: What sets you apart as a player?
Kossounou: "I'm physically strong, I'm quick and I'm able to anticipate what is going to happen. I'm also good with my head."
bundesliga.com: How have you enjoyed playing in the Bundesliga in the short time that you've been here so far?
Kossounou: "The Bundesliga is a great league. It's a great league. I've followed the Bundesliga for a long time and have watched matches for a long time. The level of football here is very high. It also represents a good step in my development. In my opinion, it's a good league and one where I can develop well."
bundesliga.com: Were you surprised at all to hear that Leverkusen wanted you before they signed you this summer?
Kossounou: "I wasn't surprised because they had been interested in me for a long time. As soon as contact was initiated, I signalled my intention to join the club."
bundesliga.com: You came through Asec Mimosa, the most famous academy in the Ivory Coast. Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Emmanuel Eboue all graduated from there, too. Do you hope to have a similarly successful career?
Kossounou: "They're big players, who achieved a lot in their careers. It's truly an honour to have followed players of this calibre. But I continue to work hard every day in order to try to emulate them and go as far as possible myself."
bundesliga.com: Please tell us about your journey to Leverkusen - how difficult was it getting to the Bundesliga?
Kossounou: "I started at a Centre de Formation in a small village near Abidjan. At the age of 13, I joined ASEC Mimosas. I was there for five years and worked extremely hard - like everyone did there. When you join an academy, it's a very proud moment for your family. I was integrated into the first team at Mimosas, at the age of 16, if I'm not mistaken. I wasn't able to play many matches but I trained hard. But there was a tournament, the Gothia Cup, in Sweden, where I was scouted by Hammarby IF. I spent three months in Sweden, then three months back in Abidjan, and at the age of 18, I signed a professional contract with them. I played for them for five months and then in January, I left for Belgium to join Club Brugge. I spent two seasons there, but for one of the seasons, we only played 15 matches. It was a little bit complicated because I spent just five months in Sweden and then moved to Belgium. There was one season of adaptation. But in the second season, I played a lot of matches. Last season was fantastic. And then I joined Bayer Leverkusen."
bundesliga.com: As you said, you watched a lot of Bundesliga before joining Leverkusen. What did you know about the league before coming to Germany?
Kossounou: "I watched a lot of games on television. I watched the big players like [Robert] Lewandowski, [Serge] Gnabry, [Jadon] Sancho, [Erling] Haaland - all these big players who were playing here. That alone tells me that it's a big league. It also enables me to achieve my objectives. It's a great step for me to have come here to the Bundesliga. Since I was little, I have dreamed of playing here. So it's a true honour for me."
bundesliga.com: Who has helped you most since you arrived at the club? Who is your best buddy in the team?
Kossounou: "Edmond Tapsoba, who speaks French. The coach speaks French, too. So I've integrated well, I'm able to communicate with everyone. I also speak English so I've been able to speak to the others. They have helped me to integrate smoothly within the team and ensure that I feel good."
bundesliga.com: Are your family proud of you for playing in the Bundesliga?
Kossounou: "Of course, my family are proud. It's a great honour for my family and for me. So they are very proud."
bundesliga.com: You and Leverkusen face Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 4, the first game after the current international break. How excited are you for that game?
Kossounou: "Borussia Dortmund are a big club; Bayer Leverkusen are also a big club. We have the qualities that you need to hurt them. We'll work hard, we'll focus on the task. Not just ahead of Dortmund, but every team. We don't discriminate - every game is important for us. We'll give our all in every game. Not just against Dortmund. We'll give our all to go as far as possible and pick up as many points as possible."
bundesliga.com: You will obviously be defending against Dortmund's number nine, Erling Haaland. Are you looking forward to going up against Haaland?
Kossounou: "I faced Erling Haaland in the Champions League when I was at Club Brugge. We all know that he's a good striker, very physical with a good finish. But we'll prepare well as a group to ensure we perform well against them."
bundesliga.com: You then face Bayern Munich on Matchday 8 just a few weeks later. How excited are you for that encounter?
Kossounou: "It's similar to what I said about Dortmund. We don't discriminate when it comes to opponents. We'll prepare against them the same way we do against Augsburg and every other team. The important thing is to give our all on the pitch in order to win the game."
bundesliga.com: Are you looking forward to going up against Robert Lewandowski?
Kossounou: "Lewandowski is a great attacker. I'll prepare thoroughly in order to stop him from scoring. And we will work hard as a team to win the game."
bundesliga.com: Who do you think are the best German defenders?
Kossounou: "Jerome Boateng was a defender I watched a lot. He's someone I watched a lot because I always watched the big teams in the Bundesliga to see how they played. So Jerome Boateng is the player who comes into my head."
bundesliga.com: Who is your idol?
Kossounou: "Sergio Ramos. He's a defender, and I tend to watch defenders. Even though he plays in midfield a lot. But Sergio Ramos."
bundesliga.com: What are your objectives with Bayer Leverkusen?
Kossounou: "Our objective is to win the league. And to qualify for the Champions League. To win as many trophies as possible."
bundesliga.com: How have you found the atmosphere in the stadiums this season, only half full?
Kossounou: "It feels great, yes. We enjoyed playing in front of our fans. It was a bit boring to play without fans in the stadiums. But they're back now. Even though the stadiums are not at full capacity, we can feel their support and how they push us to give our all in every game."